Flood prevention being ignored - MPs

By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Image source, Getty Images

Simple actions to help protect homes in England from flooding are still being ignored by government, MPs say.

The Commons environment committee said ministers were not addressing what it called the fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood management.

Areas of concern include flood impact home insurance, building rules and local authority planning decisions.

The government rejected the criticism, saying it had accepted many previous suggestions on flooding from the MPs.


The committee’s comments are the latest in a running tussle between MPs and the environment department Defra.

The MPs admit that flooding has risen up the government's priority list, and say “considerable work” on flooding is being done across Whitehall. But they complain that ministers are still ignoring reasonable demands.

Jim Fitzpatrick MP, acting chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra), said: "People living in areas of flood risk need to be reassured that the government is acting to improve our disjointed flood management system.

“Defra has failed to give sufficient justification for its rejection of our recommendations for important new measures.”

Take the principle of slowing the flow of rivers across upland catchments to stop communities flooding, pioneered by Pickering in North Yorkshire.

The government says it backs this idea, subject to further tests on a catchment scale, but the MPs say ministers should give more details on how much they are spending to prevent flooding this way.

The MPs also want changes to insurance rules so householders who have been flooded can get insurance help to make their homes flood-proof in future.

They say developers who increase flood risk by breaching planning conditions should be obliged to compensate homeowners.

In addition, the report says local councils should be forced to publish annual summaries of planning decisions they approve against Environment Agency flood advice.

Also, water and sewage companies should have a say on planning applications to prevent new developments adding to flood risk.

Several bodies, including the committee, believe the government needs to overhaul the way flooding is managed, with prime responsibility removed from the Environment Agency. But suggestions of a re-organisation were previously firmly rejected by ministers, and this has been re-confirmed.

A spokesman for Defra told BBC News: “We take a long-term, strategic approach to protecting the nation from floods.

"We are investing £2.5bn on building flood defence schemes across the country to better protect an additional 300,000 homes by 2021, bringing an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spend.

"We are already implementing many of the [committee’s] suggestions, such as managing watercourses across entire catchment areas, but there is no need for structural changes."

The comments come as Defra is facing criticism over the publication – without a previous press notice - of its own national climate change risk assessment warning of risks from flooding.

The report appeared on Defra’s website last week on the same afternoon that a new global temperature record was announced.

Environmentalists were suspicious that Defra was trying to bury it, but a government spokesman said: "That's ridiculous. The publication date was agreed ages ago."

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